Township schools budget hike cut

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By DREW CARTER

The Cicero Township Trustees of Schools' proposed 2005-06 budget now calls for an overall 4 percent increase after cuts from a preliminary budget that proposed a 19 percent hike.

Newly elected Oak Park Trustee Bill Sullivan met with Township Schools Treasurer Martin O'Connor before the board's May 2 meeting to propose reductions, many of which O'Connor recommended to the board.

However, O'Connor said Monday he was miffed by a WEDNESDAY JOURNAL article about the preliminary budget. O'Connor said he'd planned to make reductions to the preliminary budget anyway, and that the calculation of the 19 percent figure reflected an error he'd made in not including payroll taxes in last year's budget.

"The preliminary budget was not a 19 percent increase," O'Connor said.

O'Connor and Sullivan agree that the 4 percent increase is based on unavoidable cost increases, especially a 58 percent hike in Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund payments brought by the retirement of the past treasurer, and actual office expense increases.

Cut from the preliminary budget were expenses such as office furniture and decor, meeting expenses, and convention expenses, all of which were cut in half or more in the new proposed budget, Sullivan said.

Also removed was a proposed raise for O'Connor of $4,000, which never would have made it through the budget process because he's signed to a two-year contract, O'Connor said.

"It really shouldn't have been in there," he said. "It was never going to fly anyway."

The trustees directed O'Connor to look into lowering one of the office's largest expenses, rent, by moving to a space within a school. The office now pays more than $18 per square foot in annual rent for its Downtown Oak Park location, for a $27,000 annual cost.

Oak Park and River Forest High School Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Witham said she would look into the possibility of finding space at OPRF and present the idea to the District 200 Board of Education.

The office could move into schools in Berwyn or Cicero, too.

"I would be quite pleased to have a less expensive space," O'Connor said.

OPRF administrators have agreed to add township treasurer employees to its medical insurance plan at the office's expense. The change would mean a 40 percent drop in insurance expenses for an annual savings of $6,000, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he helped push for the exchange of records from the office to OPRF, and the opening of the "blue )book" that contain records of all investments the office has.

The trustees of schools office collects tax proceeds from school districts in Berwyn, Cicero and Oak Park, invests the money, then returns it and earned interest as districts make regular expenditures. The office's budget is funded by the six districts in the three communities.

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